DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Self-reflection for my Church family

Written by: on May 9, 2019

(My apologies, but this will not have proper formatting and source citing this week, due to internet problems on my main computer).

My sister and brother-in-law visited this past week since they knew I would be home recovering from surgery. Cheri and Greg have served as a ministry couple numerous times throughout their marriage, and as a result, have helped to be great sounding boards for wisdom and guidance as I struggle with congregational issues back home. It was interesting how smoothly this week’s reading helped lay a foundation for one of the discussions we had when Greg asked me, “What is the biggest struggle facing your church right now?” It was not a question I have not actually asked myself a lot lately; so my answer was quick: “We have too many hateful gossips.” At one point, our author hit the nail on the head by stating that “The past creates the present.” In fact, it seems that the older our “past-member” grow, the more traditionally violent they become. They hate change so much that small deviations from their comfortable norm, seems to create hostility and grumbling throughout. Well, the reading later addresses the struggle I have been going back and forth on, by addressing what Heifetz addressed as challenges facing congregations.

1. Technical problems: These are easy to identify and thus, easy to try to rectify.

2. Hybrid problems: These are problems that are easy to identify, but the the solution may takea little more effort to resolve.

3. Adaptive Problems: Are problems that are difficult to identify, thus making it even more difficult to solve.

So how do you solve the problem of bitter, gossiping older members that cannot control their tongues; especially when standing next to visiting families. Well, based upon the scale above, I concluded that we have a hybrid problem…I KNOW the problem…there is no question what the problem is. However, not to sound bad, but dealing with older members is never a simple task; they often come with an sense of age-instilled entitlement; and a belief that they are not the problem. I’m sorry to disappoint you right now, but if you were waiting to see my answer to the problem…I DON’T HAVE ONE!!!  I have been looking to our three biggest offenders, hoping to find a bigger underlying source of the anger. So far, this is where I am: (Initials will be used instead of names)

1. C: Her husband of many years passed away last year and her entire world has been turned upside down. She has moved from her old home, changed her duties at church, and even had some of her children move to town to be closer to her.

2. L: He used to be a past elder over our congregation, but stepped down a few years ago due to health issues. It seems he wants that immediate consideration he used to have as an elder, but without being part of the leadership team.

3. R: Her husband also passed away a couple years ago; but she was a pretty bitter woman before that. She has bad relationships with her children, and only has a relative she visits down south periodically; who she actually claims to not like that much.

Ironically, all three of these members…at some point in the past…were incredibly active and dedicated members of our church. They have all demonstrated strong work ethics, and even seemed to be regarded with a pretty high degree of Christian respect from the congregation. Sadly, they are now three of the worst gossips and insult-throwing members we have. “So it’s no surprise that individuals and groups resist change initially. However, resistance has many faces and wise change agents learn to recognize them.” I hope I don’t not have to admit a lack of wisdom simply because I have not recognized the correct course of action…yet. I believe there is a point in this process that our congregation must relay the damage to these member that they are doing; furthermore, it must be done without hurting them in the process. I have just not figured out a method that has successfully achieved that goal yet.

So for now, I am still praying about it. My greatest desire here is to see this congregation growing again; a goal that I truly believe is well within our ability. However, right now, it seems every effort toward that goal seems to be thwarted by the people in the back of the room. I hope we can overcome that obstacle.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

12 responses to “Self-reflection for my Church family”

  1. mm Mike says:

    Shawn,
    Gossip is for sure a very slippery slope. How many times, “well I heard this about so-and-so and I think they need prayer” to preempt and try to justify gossip, slander, and envy?
    My pastor asked me to take over our foreign mission committee a few years ago. We have members on the committee that are just like you described in your congregation, who hate change, resist innovation, and are set in their ways? There was no way to implement any missional changes that were not already on their agenda.
    It was only after I fell prostrate on the floor, begged for a humble spirit, and prayed for the Holy Spirit to change me that I started to see changes in them. Sometimes, the easy fix is not the one that changes hearts. In my example, the Holy Spirit changed hearts on both sides of the problem and the mission committee is bearing spiritual fruit.
    I think, in a lot of situations, the only change agent who really makes changes that last is the Holy Spirit. From that perspective, I am not so frustrated when I see what needs to be done for the quick fix and pray for patience, wisdom, and discernment for the long term slow fixes.
    Keep your armor on and the battle is not against flesh and blood are axioms to live by.
    Stand firm,
    Mike w

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Thanks Mike. Frustration can be a terrible stumbling block and I am working diligently to keep it out of my path.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Shawn,

    My heart breaks for you and the church. Dysfunction like that is so painful. Thanks for being willing to “keep pressing on”. I like Mike’s last sentence above…

    I know you like funny stuff, so just remember what H.B London used to say, “we are only a couple good funerals away from having the church we want.”

    Jay

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Jay…made my night reading that. I “misspoke” the other night by saying, “When a few of these older members pass on, we will really be able to get some stuff done.” My wife called me on it by asking, “Did you really just say that good things will happen when the old people die?”

      I suppose I did.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Shawn, good post. It was cool to see your internal thought process and what you are working on currently in your ministry. I wish I had the answer too!

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Kyle, I think I paid closer attention certain parts just praying that the answer was in there somewhere. Perhaps I will see it later. Until then…I keep praying.

  4. Great post, Shawn!

    I hope you’re doing well and making a quick recovery!

    Gossip can cause unhealthy dissension within many congregations and sadly, lead to segregation, instead of helpful diversified thought. There’s nothing wrong with seeing life from varied perspectives, but when difference leads to disrespect, it causes such harm to the church and the health of the congregation.

    What are ways that your church is able to voice their dissension in healthy ways? Do they feel like they can contribute to the vision and culture of the church’s future? Perhaps there is a way for members to voice their dreams and vision for the church through the written word. This would give you and the elder board the chance to see the similarities and differences in the pastoral culture compared to the congregational culture.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      We have bi-monthly leadership meetings that we invite our congregation to come to. These meetings are an open invitation to speak your mind, offer your ideas, or even just ask about the future. We have also started a newsletter to be put out periodically just to inform people of what is coming up over the next 6 months. We are hoping an informed church will help with later criticism.

      And thank you. Nose and ear are healing nicely though still a little tender.

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Shawn,

    You have described one of the constant challenges in church communities. There are practically no pastors who do not understand your challenge. This is some of what Zemke attempts to address as she recognizes some of the personalities that make up congregational life. Perhaps ‘growth’ will come in a different form during this season, not necessarily numerical but growth of another kind for the congregation that will hopefully include your three ‘special’ individuals. I pray for your continued wisdom in leadership for the upcoming stages of your ministry there.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I pray the same thing Dan. I just finished a 14 week series on the qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13. It was amazing how unaffected some of the people were though; it is disheartening sometimes.

  6. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Shawn
    I can feel your frustration in dealing with members as described. I wish there was an easy answer to that question but there never seems to be. You might consider reading some of Ed Stetzer’s writings on dealing with difficult church members he has always given good advice on other subjects I have read from him. I will be praying for you brother.

    Jason

  7. Dave Watermulder says:

    Man, Shawn!

    It definitely sounds like you are doing some trench work out there right now. I think that the framework of “the past creates the present” is important given what you are experiencing. Especially with some of those previously involved leader/members, they are definitely holding onto things from the past and kind of dragging them into the present. I wonder if there is a “breakthrough” moment that could come, or if it would be more of a series of small, faithful steps. I always wish it was the former, but it turns out to be the latter for me. I’ll be praying for you, my bro.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *